The much maligned European Union has never been anyone’s favourite subject. With the Referendum date creeping up with the inevitability of Nigel Farage making an inappropriate remark on the subject, suddenly the EU has taken centre stage, with more questions than answers seemingly.
The last few months have seen a lot of earnest and impassioned discussions and speeches. Despite the quantity – there has been very little in the way of debate, and of both sides presenting their case to the great British public. Instead, there have just been a lot of claims and claims based on varying shades of the truth. Dubious facts and statistics gave been used by both sides, with both Leave and Remain preferring to drown out or condemn the other side, as opposed to engaging in real debate. Each shock claim by one side is countered by another equally lurid claim. With the press and social media having thoroughly covered debated the each issue, the writer refuses to go over the main issues yet again.
The only point worthy of repeating concerns immigration. Immigration has been put front and centre as the most compelling issues in this matter. Immigration is also easily the most inflammatory and controversial argument here – as politicians and the media have found out. However, it is by no means the sole matter to consider. Trade and industry, economics, the Common Agricultural Policy, the Common Fisheries Policy, legal and political supremacy, the unacountability of the various EU bodies and officials are but some of the issues to be considered. Although immigration and free movement of people is an important factor when considering the EU – it is not the only factor, as many on either side would have the voting public believe.
Whether basing their decision on immigration or not, the British people will be asked for their opinion on June 23. To vote Remain is the safe and comfortable option, endorsed by mass media and (seemingly) public opinion. However, the passion of the Leave campaign remains as strong and vocal as ever, with support only growing.
Governments come and go (now every five years). For five years (or longer, if lucky at the polls), the government as the opportunity to government according to their policies and principles – before the next government contradicts or alters much of what has been done. In domestic politics, longevity is rare. In domestic politics, a short term view and outlook is often best and realistic, however desirable a longer term view is. With that in mind, this EU Referendum is actually potentially more significant than a General Election, simply because it’s impact will last for longer, and the impact of the vote will outlive this Conservative government, and probably the next government. Governments and political leaders will come and go over the next decade – but all of them will have to deal with the consequences of either a Leave or Remain vote now in 2016. This Referendum is one of those significant moments in Western history, one of those moments which future historians will earnestly dissect and dicuss in future decades, and pinpoint as a crucial point in 21st Century history. The stakes are that high, and the outcome either way will be that influential.
With that in mind, Remain campaigners cite the uncertainty surrounding a Brexit. No one knows or can predict accurately what will happen, how the UK will leave the EU, or what the actual impact will be. Speculation ranges from a new government or Prime Minister, to a break up of the United Kingdom, to hefty trade tariffs and the rapid decline of either the Pound Sterling or Euro. However, all of that is but speculation and guesswork; the reality is absolutely uncharted territory.
Similarly, though, there remains equal uncertainty surrounding a Remain vote. The EU started as a free trade agreement in 1957, with the admirable intention of promoting peace, economic stability and prosperity in a continent recovering from mass conflict. Since then, if has changed – drastically. As Europe changed, the Berlin Wall collapsed, member state followed member state, and treaty followed treaty. The result – a political entity far removed from the initial Common Market of 1957.
The uncertainty is this. Whatever the EU is now – what will it be in a few years time? What will we as a nation still be a part of? The EU will not go backwards – only forwards. Possibly, ever increasing integration, economic union, and federation will be seen over the next decade of the EU’s existence. More nations might join – or the Euro might collapse. Just like no one can forsee what will happen if the UK leaves that troubled Union now – no one can forsee how the EU will adapt to a changing and volatile world. What steps to preserve and protect an ever decaying Union will be enacted in the next five years? Not even the current EU leaders can say now in 2016. It must be noted that as an entity, the EU had failed over migrants in the Med – leaving NATO to take charge. As an entity, the EU failed to protect the Euro, resulting in national chaos and troubles following the 2008 recession. Bailouts and similar measures were indeed arranged for individual nations – but at what cost, financial or otherwise, to the overall Union?
If that is the EU of 2016 - what of the EU of 2026? History shows that Europe has never been successfully united. There have been attempts, ranging from Charlemagne in the early 800’s, to the Anglo-French Angevin Empire of medieval times, through to the Habsburg dynasty and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. All of those did admittedly have varying sucess in uniting Europe. All of those ended up, for a variety of reasons, collapsing and falling apart, often with bloody consequences. When all those attempts have failed – why will the European Union suceed? To suceed, greater and closer political and economic union is a necessity. Currently, though, from Austria to Spain, from France to Portugal, a wave of populist right wing sentiments and support is sweeping the Continent- making any such further union unlikely and unpopular.
As such, it is in the EU’s own interest, despite public opinion, to work towards ever closer union. In marathon talks earlier this year, the European Union Commission promised to renegotiate the UK’s membership. Several assurances were made, and an agreement that certain areas would be discussed if Britain voted to aim. Despite such fine words and solemn assurances – in any subsequent renegotiations following a Remain vote, it is unlikely that the European Commission under will keep their promises. Rather, they will demand more and more from one of the more stable economies and democracies in the Continent. Rest assured, there will be consequences for bringing the EU to the brink of collapse.
On the other hand, even the most ardent Brexit supported has to admit that there will be troubles ahead. Economic, political and social unrest will follow as we disentangle ourselves from an unaccountable monolithic entity with kegal and political tentacles to rival an octopus. The initial uncertainty will undoubtedly be bad for a recovering economy, and will have unwelcome social consequences in addition to political questions. Amidst the many lurid theories advanced as to what a Brexit could look like in reality, there is an element of truth buried in the hysteria and fear.
However, the EU will change over time. This issue will be revisited, maybe sooner than the British people would like to think. The whole EU experiment could collapse, forcing the UK and other nations to leave.
Either way, Britain faces uncertainty and turmoil regarding Europe – either now, or in the future. The only question is – when do the British people want to face those troubles as a nation?
On the ballot on June 23, the British will be asked whether they want to leave or remain in the EU. Realistically, the question should be different: do the British Isles want to leave the EU now, or in ten years time?